One Piece: East Blue (1999-2001) Anime Review

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Right…This is going to be huge and quite long term, as I decided to start watching One Piece sometime late last year, and I’m fully aware that even if I take out the filler, I will probably not be brought up to date with the latest episodes until at least 2021, and that includes us experiencing an international pandemic.  Instead of watching every episode and then writing about it (meaning you will never hear anything about this.  Ever), I’ll be focusing on individual arcs, starting with the first.  This is the East Blue storyline.

NOTE: Much of what I say here could end up applying to the whole of One Piece forevermore if I produce other reviews about later storylines.

The East Blue storyline gives us the primary goal at the very beginning, and is the main origins story of One Piece.  Our primary focus is on how the Straw Hat Pirates came to be, and how their Captain, Monkey D. Luffy, became a heavily wanted fugitive of the Sea while he chases his dream.  The big goal is to find One Piece, a legendary ultimate treasure that was once in the possession of Gold Rodger, the greatest and most successful Pirate Captain of all time.  On the day of his execution, he says that One Piece is where he left it, leading to a Golden Age of Piracy throughout the lands (and the seas).

Now to break up 1 piece into pieces of 8:

The Art style in One Piece is 1 of the most unique in the whole of anime, as the main characters are instantly recognisable, and would be easier to animate than most.  What you have is a combination of hastened but skilfully created watercolour backgrounds, characters on cel-shaded plastic with black outlines and a more intense hue saturation, and character designs that are so out of the ordinary of traditional anime aesthetic that it can either be seen as inspired by western cartoons (Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera comes to mind) or a huge throwback to anime that was created between the 1940s and 1960s, when it was mostly inspired by American cartoons brought over during the American Occupation of Japan.  Either way, everything about the show is visually eye-catching.

Animation-wise, it was clear that the studio had to work very smart and not worry about too many details, as the show has been an ongoing weekly program since 1999.  There are battle scenes that consist primarily of panels from the manga that are then given colour, camera movement and sound, and in doing so, add an extra 3-5 seconds to a 22 minute episode with just 1 picture.  However that doesn’t mean they’re stepping into late ’60s Spiderman territory – rather it is simply a form of minimalism in areas that either need little animation, or there is so much animation that it could be done for a movie if the deadline and budget allowed it.

The Voice acting is strong in Japanese and a mixed bag in english, but that’s primarily because I’m watching it in Japanese and then glimpsed at some episodes in english to make a comparison.  I’ll focus on the 5 main characters for this; Zoro sounds surprisingly regal in english & more rogue in Japanese.  Sanji sounds more like a punk in English and more a fighter in Japanese.  Luffy…this will probably annoy some people – In english he sounds like a woman impersonating a teenager with a raspy voice (think Nelson Muntz in The Simpsons), while in Japanese he sounds like a brash teenager.  Meanwhile, Nami and Usopp are exactly how I would imagine them sounding in english.

The music usually consists of music that plays in nearly every episode with the opening and ending themes changing about half or two thirds of the way through (On top of that, english dubbed theme songs were made).  The 1st opening theme has a ton of adventure in its tone while the 2nd opening theme was very Eurobeat in style (J-Euro to be exact, with was more in demand in the late ’90s/early ’00s).  The music that plays during the show is more or less perfect in its range, with each character having their own jingle for the commercial break to the tunes that brings tension and excitement to the circumstance, to the piano pieces that allow the show to slow down for a moment and contemplate its own humanity.  After a while, like the music in Twin Peaks, it gets burned into your brain, and thankfully it sounds great.

The story is a slow burner, and could be compared to a Japanese roleplaying video game (Dragon Quest & Final Fantasy would come to mind).  You have Luffy effectively meeting his future crew members and see them in their circumstances – all of them prisoners to something or someone or someones, and Luffy fixing their problems to the point that they could be encouraged to join his crew.  Each origin story stretches out over several episodes each, with some very memorable villains making their presence known, and occasionally showing up later, such as Buggy The Clown.  With each new ‘Boss’, Luffy requires the help of all his friends, which is where the threat to each story builds upon itself, and they really do need each other in order to survive and win.

Characters-wise I am only really focusing on the 5 main characters, and perhaps the villains and supporting characters:

Luffy wants to be King Of The Pirates, and after eating a Devil Fruit he gained the ability to stretch himself beyond anything of this world while also having super human strength, speed and strikes…however he is unable to swim (1 of the downsides to being a rubber-man) which is where his new friends all come in.  Seemingly careless and mindless in many ways, Luffy possesses an emotional intelligence that makes him a great leader rather than a boss.  This is a leader who fights for his crew.

Zoro, an acclaimed Bounty Hunter, wants to be the greatest swordsman in the world, and after seeing how strong Luffy is (and knowing that trouble with come everywhere Luffy went) decides to team with him.  Despite being named Zoro, his character is closer to being like a young Sanjuro, Toshio Mifune’s character in Akira Kurasawa’s film Yojimbo.

Nami wants to navigate and create charts of the entire world, and be the best at it.  She ends up being the hardest 1 to convince, as her chains ended up being the strongest.  She is very sly and quick at dropping friends, but has her reasons for doing so.  However despite rejecting the gang, Luffy knows how important she would be for his crew and the directions of their journey.

Usopp wants to be a brave warrior of the sea, to prove to everyone that he isn’t a liar, a coward or a disappointment compared to his Father, Yasopp, a successful pirate who is part of the Red Haired Pirates; The Gang who inspired Luffy to be a Pirate.  His flaws are quick at getting him into trouble, but he possesses a desire to make people happy.  He is also very creative with weapons and has phenomenal sniper capabilities, which makes him perfect for the Crow’s Nest.

Sanji wants to find new ingredients (In particular, the variety of fish that appear in a legendary part of the ocean called “All Blue”) and become the best chef in the world.  Unlike the rest of the crew, Sanji is haunted by his memory of nearly dying by starvation as a child, and makes it very clear that food should never be wasted.  His primary weakness is women (especially Nami), and he would sacrifice himself to make sure they are never harmed.  He’s also a chain smoker, which was acceptable 20 years ago, but wouldn’t work on TV now unless it was made clear that this was a character’s flaw.  Perhaps he gives it up later on.  Anyway, Luffy’s crew needs a Chef, so he seeks out Sanji’s services on the ship.

The East Blue Arc has nearly 40 villains and villain groups, ranging from the tactical Captain Kuro to the silly but chaotic Buggy The Clown, to iron-willed Marine Sheriff, Smoker The White Hunter, to, obviously the nastiest of the bunch – Arlong the Saw.  Each villain builds on the next and some return with unfinished business later on, as every pirate wants to be the best.

The main themes in the show could also qualify as morals, as the story is designed for both adults and children to enjoy without coming across as mindless fun with catchphrases (although the show deliberately has its share of that).  The main themes are friendship, adventure, the chasing of dreams, and overcoming the stumbling blocks along the way.  Each main character brings different qualities to the table; Luffy brings fearlessness and the importance of friendship, Zoro brings diligence and challenge, Nami brings intellectuality and financial frugalness, Usopp brings ingenuity and cunning, and Sanji brings the importance of making, exploring and not wasting food (Again, but this could be expanded upon in later seasons).

Would I recommend One Piece?  Absolutely.  There is something for nearly every age group here, which means it can qualify as a very good parent-child viewing experience.  It’s not complicated viewing, and yet it doesn’t insult your intelligence, and very much chooses to have fun while still managing to make you both laugh and cry when it wants you to.  My score is only for these first 61 episodes (I watch the fillers as well, and they were still a good viewing experience), and this score might change when I review the Second Arc.

Background Art: ****1/2

Character Art: ****1/2

Animation: ***1/2

Voice Acting: ****1/2 (Japanese) ***1/2 (English)

Music: ****1/4

Story: ****3/4

Characters: ****3/4

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2

 

 

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